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How the World’s First Chief Heat Officer Plans to Keep Miamians Cool

Jane Gilbert is asserting the under-appreciated urgency of tackling extreme heat in climate change resilience plans.

Children stand in front of a fan to cool off at Flamingo Park in Miami Beach.

Children stand in front of a fan to cool off at Flamingo Park in Miami Beach.

Photographer: Jeff Greenberg/Universal Images Group Editorial

Jane Gilbert recently stepped into a job that had never been established before. In May, she became Miami-Dade County’s chief heat officer, the first in the U.S. — and in the world. Leaving her position as Miami city’s chief resilience officer, Gilbert is taking up the task of coming up with a plan to protect the region's 2.7 million residents as temperatures continue to rise.

Heat waves are becoming more frequent and more intense, and the urban heat island effect makes their impact on cities even worse. “​​It's less likely that we’re going to have this one incident of a devastating heat wave,” Gilbert said of the Miami region’s challenge. “For us it’s going to be more of a chronic exposure issue for outdoor workers and workers in hot conditions, and for those that can’t afford [air conditioning].”